Read CHAPTER XVIII - LOUISBOURG of The Lily and the Cross A Tale of Acadia , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

There was a little beau monde at Louisbourg, which, as might be expected, was quite gay, since it was French.  At the head stood, of course; the commandant and his lady; then came the military officers with their ladies, and the naval officers without their ladies, together with the unmarried officers of both services.  As the gentlemen far outnumbered the ladies, the latter were always in great demand; so that the ladies of the civilians, though of a decidedly inferior grade, were objects of attention and of homage.  This being the case, it will readily be perceived what an effect was produced upon the beau monde at Louisbourg by the advent of such a bright, particular star as Mimi.  Young, beautiful, accomplished, she also added the charms of rank, and title, and supposed wealth.  The Count de Laborde had been prominent at court, and his name was well known.  His daughter was therefore looked upon as one of the greatest heiresses of France, and there was not a young officer at Louisbourg who did not inwardly vow to strive to win so dazzling a prize.

She would at once have been compelled to undergo a round of the most exhaustive festivities, had it not been for one thing ­she was in mourning.  Her bereavement had been severe, and was so recent that all thoughts of gayety were out of the question.  This fact lessened the chances which the gallant French cavaliers might otherwise have had, but in no respect lessened their devotion.  Beauty in distress is always a touching and a resistless object to every chivalrous heart; and here the beauty was exquisite, and the distress was undeniably great.

The commandant and his lady had appropriated Mimi from the first, and Mimi congratulated herself on having found a home so easily.  It was pleasant to her, after her recent imprisonment, to be among people who looked up to her with respectful and affectionate esteem.  Monsieur de Florian may not have been one of the best of men; indeed, it was said that he had been diligently feathering his nest at the expense of the government ever since he had been in Louisbourg; but in spite of that, he was a kindhearted man, while his wife was a kind-hearted woman, and one, too, who was full of tact and delicacy.  Mimi’s position, therefore, was as pleasant as it could be, under the circumstances.

After one or two days had passed, Claude began to be aware of the fact that life in Louisbourg was much less pleasant than life on the road.  There he was all day long close beside Mimi, or at her horse’s bridle, with confidential chat about a thousand things, with eloquent nothings, and shy glances, and tender little attentions, and delicate services.  Here, however, it was all different.  All this had come to an end.  The difficulty now was, to see Mimi at all.  It is true there was no lack of friendliness on the part of the commandant, or of his good lady; but then he was only one among many, who all were received with the same genial welcome by this genial and polished pair.  The chivalry of Louisbourg crowded to do homage to the beautiful stranger, and the position of Claude did not seem to be at all more favorable than that of the youngest cadet in the service.

His obscurity now troubled Claude greatly.  He found himself quite insignificant in Louisbourg.  If he had possessed the smallest military rank, he would have been of more consequence.  He thought of coming out in his true name, as the Count de Montresor, but was deterred by the thought of the troubles into which he had already fallen by the discovery of his name.  How much of that arrest was due to the ill will of Cazeneau, and how much to the actual dangers besetting him as a Montresor, he could not know.  He saw plainly enough that the declaration of his name and rank might lead to a new arrest at the hands of this commandant, in which case escape could hardly be thought of.  He saw that it was better far for him to be insignificant, yet free, than to be the highest personage in Louisbourg, and liable to be flung into a dungeon.  His ignorance of French affairs, and of the actual history of his family, made him cautious; so that he resolved not to mention the truth about himself to any one.  Under all these circumstances, Claude saw no other resource but to endure as best he could the unpleasantness of his personal situation, and live in the hope that in the course of time some change might take place by which he could be brought into closer connection with Mimi.

Fortunately for him, an opportunity of seeing Mimi occurred before he had gone too deep down into despondency.  He went up one day to the citadel, about a week after he had come to Louisbourg.  Mimi was at the window, and as he came she saw him, and ran to the door.  Her face was radiant with smiles.

“O, I am so glad,” she said, “that you have come!  I did so want to see you, to ask you about something!”

“I never see you alone now,” said Claude, sadly, holding her hand as though unwilling to relinquish it.

“No,” said Mimi, with a slight flush, gently withdrawing her hand, “I am never alone, and there are so many callers; but M. Florian has gone out, taking the madame, on an affair of some importance; and so, you see, we can talk without interruption.”

“Especially if we walk over into the garden,” said Claude.

Mimi assented, and the two walked into the garden that was on the west side of the residence, and for some time neither of them said a word.  The trees had just come into leaf; for the season is late in this climate, but the delay is made good by the rapid growth of vegetation after it has once started; and now the leaves were bursting forth in glorious richness and profusion, some more advanced than others, and exhibiting every stage of development.  The lilacs, above all, were conspicuous for beauty; for they were covered with blossoms, with the perfume of which the air was loaded.

“I never see you now,” said Claude, at length.

“No,” said Mimi, sadly.

“It is not as it used to be,” said Claude, with a mournful smile, “when I walked by your side day after day.”

Mimi sighed, and said nothing.

“It is different with you,” said Claude; “you are the centre of universal admiration, and everybody pays you attention.  The time never passes heavily with you; but think of me ­miserable, obscure, friendless!”

Mimi turned, and looked at him with such a piteous face that Claude stopped short.  Her eyes were fixed on his with tender melancholy and reproach.  They were filled with tears.

“And do you really believe that?” she said ­“that the time never passes heavily with me?  It has been a sad time ever since I came here.  Think how short a time it is since poor, dear papa left me!  Do you think I can have the heart for much enjoyment?”

“Forgive me,” said Claude, deeply moved; “I had forgotten; I did not think what I was saying; I was too selfish.”

“That is true,” said Mimi.  “While you were suffering from loneliness, you should have thought that I, too, was suffering, even in the midst of the crowd.  But what are they all to me?  They are all strangers.  It is my friends that I want to see; and you are away, and the good Pere Michel never comes!”

“Were you lonely on the road?” asked Claude.

“Never,” said Mimi, innocently, “after you came.”

As she said this, a flush passed over her lovely face, and she looked away confused.  Claude seized her hand, and pressed it to his lips.  They then walked on in silence for some time.  At last Claude spoke again.

“The ship will not leave for six weeks.  If I were alone, I think I should go back to Boston.  But if you go to France, I shall go, too.  Have you ever thought of what you will do when you get there?”

“I suppose I shall have to go to France,” said Mimi; “but why should you think of going to Boston?  Are you not going on your family business?”

“I am not,” said Claude.  “I am only going because you are going.  As to my family business, I have forgotten all about it; and, indeed, I very much doubt whether I could do anything at all.  I do not even know how I am to begin.  But I wish to see you safe and happy among your friends.”

Mimi looked at him in sad surprise.

“I do not know whether I have any friends or not,” said she.  “I have only one relative, whom I have never seen.  I had intended to go to her.  I do not know what I shall do.  If this aunt is willing to take me, I shall live with her; but she is not very rich, and I may be a burden.”

“A burden!” said Claude; “that is impossible!  And besides, such a great heiress as you will be welcome wherever you go.”

He spoke this with a touch of bitterness in his voice; for Mimi’s supposed possessions seemed to him to be the chief barrier between himself and her.

“A great heiress!” said Mimi, sadly.  “I don’t know what put that into your head.  Unfortunately, as far as I know, I have nothing.  My papa sold all his estates, and had all his money on board the Arethuse.  It was all lost in the ship, and though I was an heiress when I left home, I shall go back nothing better than a beggar, to beg a home from my unknown aunt.  Or,” she continued, “if my aunt shows no affection, it is my intention to go back to the convent of St. Cecilia, where I was educated, and I know they will be glad to have me; and I could not find a better home for the rest of my life than among those dear sisters who love me so well.”

“O, Mimi,” he cried, “O, what joy it is to hear that you are a beggar!  Mimi, Mimi!  I have always felt that you were far above me ­too far for me to raise my thoughts to you.  Mimi, you are a beggar, and not an heiress!  You must not go to France.  I will not go.  Let us remain together.  I can be more to you than any friend.  Come with me.  Be mine.  O, let me spend my life in trying to show you how I love you!”

He spoke these words quickly, feverishly, and passionately, seizing her hand in both of his.  He had never called her before by her name; but now he called her by it over and over, with loving intonations.  Mimi had hardly been prepared for this; but though unprepared, she was not offended.  On the contrary, she looked up at him with a face that told him more than words could convey.  He could not help reading its eloquent meaning.  Her glance penetrated to his heart ­her soul spoke to his.  He caught her in his arms, and little Mimi leaned her head on his breast and wept.

But from this dream of hope and happiness they were destined to have a sudden and very rude awakening.  There was a sound in the shrubbery behind them, and a voice said, in a low, cautious tone, ­

“H-s-s-t!”

At this they both started, and turned.  It was the Pere Michel.

Both started as they saw him, partly from surprise, and partly, also, from the shock which they felt at the expression of his face.  He was pale and agitated, and the calmness and self-control which usually characterized him had departed.

“My dear friend,” said Claude, hurriedly, turning towards him and seizing his hand, “what is the matter?  Are you not well?  Has anything happened?  You are agitated.  What is the matter?”

“The very worst,” said Pere Michel ­“M. de Cazeneau!”

“What of him?  Why, he is dead!”

“Dead?  No; he is alive.  Worse ­he is here ­here ­in Louisbourg.  I have just seen him!”

“What!” cried Claude, starting back, “M. de Cazeneau alive, and here in Louisbourg!  How is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” said the priest.  “I only know this, that I have just seen him!”

“Seen him?”

“Yes.”

“Where?  You must be mistaken.”

“No, no,” said the priest, hurriedly.  “I know him ­only too well.  I saw him at the Ordnance.  He has just arrived.  He was brought here by Indians, on a litter.  The commandant is even now with him.  I saw him go in.  I hurried here, for I knew that you were here, to tell you to fly.  Fly then, at once, and for your life.  I can get you away now, if you fly at once.”

“Fly?” repeated Claude, casting a glance at Mimi.

“Yes, fly!” cried the priest, in earnest tones.  “Don’t think of her, ­or, rather, do you, Mimi, if you value his life, urge him, entreat him, pray him to fly.  He is lost if he stays.  One moment more may destroy him.”

Mimi turned as pale as death.  Her lips parted.  She would have spoken, but could say nothing.

“Come,” cried the priest, “come, hasten, fly!  It may be only for a few weeks ­a few weeks only ­think of that.  There is more at stake than you imagine.  Boy, you know not what you are risking ­not your own life, but the lives of others; the honor of your family; the hope of the final redemption of your race.  Haste ­fly, fly!”

The priest spoke in tones of feverish impetuosity.  At these words Claude stood thunder-struck.  It seemed as though this priest knew something about his family.  What did he know?  How could he allude to the honor of that family, and the hope of its redemption?

“O, fly!  O, fly!  Haste!” cried Mimi, who had at last found her voice.  “Don’t think of me.  Fly ­save yourself, before it’s too late.”

“What! and leave you at his mercy?” said Claude.

“O, don’t think of me,” cried Mimi; “save yourself.”

“Haste ­come,” cried the priest; “it is already too late.  You have wasted precious moments.”

“I cannot,” cried Claude, as he looked at Mimi, who stood in an attitude of despair.

“Then you are lost,” groaned the priest, in a voice of bitterest grief.